Town council run by Workers' Party fined $800 over unlicensed fair

Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council chairman Sylvia Lim with her lawyer Peter Low. Ms Lim, who is also WP chairman, said she is consulting lawyers on the course of action the town council can take.
Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council chairman Sylvia Lim with her lawyer Peter Low. Ms Lim, who is also WP chairman, said she is consulting lawyers on the course of action the town council can take.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

It pays fine but council chairman says it plans to take the case to High Court

The town council run by the Workers' Party (WP) was fined $800 yesterday for holding a Chinese New Year trade fair earlier this year without a permit.

It paid the fine but town council chairman Sylvia Lim told reporters after the hearing that it plans to take the case to the High Court as "we are not satisfied with the outcome". Ms Lim, who is also WP chairman, said she is consulting lawyers on the course of action that the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) can take.

Among the options is to appeal against the conviction or get a judicial review of the law.

During sentencing in court, District Judge Victor Yeo said he agreed with the prosecution that the town council was deliberate and persistent in breaching the law, having run the Hougang Central Hub fair for the full course of 22 days despite warnings to cease operations.

He said the court must send a clear signal that a permit must be obtained from the National Environment Agency (NEA) for temporary fairs, to ensure unlicensed fairs are not held indiscriminately. He added that fair organisers who are unhappy with the terms and conditions stipulated by the NEA have options. These include: not going ahead with the activity or exploring avenues of appeal under the law.

During the trial, AHPETC's lawyers had questioned the validity and reasonableness of documents the NEA required for getting a permit for temporary fairs.

One of them is a letter of support from the area's Citizens Consultative Committee, which is a group of grassroots leaders appointed by the Government.

The prosecution, in dismissing the argument, said it was a "tired and unconvincing" argument, and demonstrated the town council's complete absence of remorse.

The defence, however, reiterated the argument during its mitigation plea, saying its submission of documents that it deemed reasonable showed "substantial compliance". Hence, it argued for a nominal fine of $200.

But Judge Yeo said "the tenor and substance of the mitigation plea only serves to further fortify my view" that the objection appeared to be the conditions rather than the requirement of a permit. A nominal fine, he added, would send a wrong signal that fair organisers could choose to disengage or disregard the authorities and get away with a small fine.

Following a revision of the Environmental Public Health Act this year, the maximum fine was raised to $10,000, from April 1. Previously, the top fine was $1,000.

Ms Lim told reporters that the town council paid the fine as "we respect the court's decision".

She also said it decided to contest the case in court because "it concerns how a government agency should exercise its power conferred by law, and whether it acts in a fair and just manner". AHPETC did not do it "to create trouble for a government agency".

She also said AHPETC is being hampered in its management of common areas under its charge.

"Today is Christmas Eve, and Hougang Central Hub is empty because we are unable to organise activities to benefit residents and businesses in the area.

"The town council has also lost a source of revenue to manage its operations."

waltsim@sph.com.sg